How the Hong Kong Palace Museum Is Forging Its Own Identity

The new museum overcame a rocky start and a typhoon delay to open to eager crowds on July 3

New museum
The new Hong Kong Palace Museum © Hong Kong Palace Museum

After overcoming a rocky start and, more recently, a delay caused by a typhoon, the new Hong Kong Palace Museum—a branch of Beijing’s Palace Museum—is now open in the semi-autonomous city’s West Kowloon Cultural District.

Visitors to the $450 million facility, which opened on July 3, can now peruse 914 artifacts from the roughly 1.86 million works in the Palace Museum’s collection, many of which are being shown publicly for the first time.

The Hong Kong display, which includes ceramics, jade, bronze, costumes, jewelry, paintings, calligraphy and other national treasures, is the largest loan made by the Beijing institution since it became a museum in 1925, reports Artnet’s Vivienne Chow.

Gallery
One of the galleries in the new Hong Kong Palace Museum Courtesy of Visual Voices / Hong Kong Tourism Board

The new seven-story Hong Kong outpost features 84,000 square feet of exhibition space spanning nine galleries, each with its own theme, such as life, architecture, design and art in the Forbidden City, where the Beijing museum is based.

Though the two institutions are linked, the Hong Kong museum is establishing its own identity by incorporating multimedia works from six local, contemporary artists in its opening show. The museum also wants to attract young people and build a global connection with Chinese culture, as Chow reported for the Art Newspaper in 2021.

“Artists from Hong Kong have a very different perspective on history and historic works of art,” GayBird, a Hong Kong artist and musician whose work is on display at the museum, tells Artnet. “Our work can show the local audience that we can look at things from different perspectives.”

When Hong Kong officials first unveiled plans for the new museum in late 2016, the special administrative region’s residents and leaders initially protested the project and criticized the lack of community involvement.

Gallery in museum
Inside the new Hong Kong Palace Museum Courtesy of Visual Voices / Hong Kong Tourism Board

The museum was meant to be a gift from the central government on the 25th anniversary of Britain handing over control of Hong Kong to China, report CNN’s Stephy Chung and Kristie Lu Stout. But the project was not part of the initial plans for the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District; outgoing Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced it unexpectedly, leading some critics to believe there were secret political dealings going on behind the scenes.

“There was no consultation at all,” Lee Cheuk-yan, a Hong Kong politician, told BBC News’ Juliana Liu in 2017. “It seems to be a dictation from China, ordering Hong Kong that we should accept this museum without any proper consultation."

Still, since opening over the weekend, the facility is already proving to be a popular destination. Visitors have snapped up more than 115,000 tickets for the month of July, per Artnet, and some of the first museumgoers expressed their enthusiasm by wearing costumes in the style of the Han dynasty.

“It doesn’t matter if you are a historian or a driver,” Daisy Wang Yiyou, the museum’s deputy director, tells CNN. “You [can] relate to these fantastical treasures, and the stories we tell. You can be moved emotionally by the objects.”